For its ‘national recruitment campaign’ the DfE should look to the Armed Forces

29 Mar 2021, 7:39

Recruitment of service leavers with the skills to rise through the ranks in FE makes sense, writes Campbell Christie

When reading through the FE white paper I was particularly struck by the announcement of a “national recruitment campaign” to attract high-calibre teaching staff to the sector.  

The paper pledges to “work with the sector to ensure that providers can recruit, retain and develop the teaching staff they need” underpinned by new investment in 2021-22 that will reportedly take spending on the FE workforce to over £65 million. 

As part of that, the DfE intends to “launch a national recruitment campaign to communicate the opportunities in further education teaching”, including targeting “high-potential graduates and experienced industry experts”. 

Innovative, well-funded, national campaigns do work – I know this from my own experiences during 2001-03 when I was running the Royal Navy’s recruitment field force.

This team of over 400 sailors and Royal Marines worked out of Armed Forces careers offices spread right across the United Kingdom. I witnessed their success in getting about 5,500 new recruits for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines every year.   

And perhaps we can all recall the impact of national safety campaigns such as Don’t Drink and Drive’s “Think!” campaign. This national campaigning was 92 per cent effective in changing societal attitude, according to the Department of Transport.

But society is more of a “supertanker” than a “fast speedboat”. Tiller corrections to change impressions of FE may take some time. 

However, that mustn’t put us off. As society’s impressions change, we should see a concomitant rise in esteem for FE. And the sooner parents and carers feel more confident when advising their children about non-academic qualifications, the better.  

So, what’s not to like? I’m sure that the planned national recruitment campaign will assist in raising esteem for FE across wider society.  

‘Great dual professionals’

But we know that FE principals want the best teachers they can recruit and find it increasingly difficult to get STEM teachers, especially those whose skills are in great industry demand, such as construction.  

I think service leavers from the Armed Forces can help. 

There are more than 15,000 service leavers every year and many have the technical skills that principals want. 

They will have benefitted from career transition advice and support (which the Ministry of Defence terms “resettlement”), including CV writing, interview skills and how to research and apply for jobs.  

Service leavers make great “dual professionals” and are supported as such from the start of the initial teacher education programmes that are available to them. In many cases, they also come with excellent leadership and management skills.

Service leavers find the camaraderie of their new departments resonant with their old life

Consequently, when they find work as a college lecturer, I have seen them often promoted quickly. 

Like any profession, the services have their own jargon. When I joined FE as a principal in 2011, “SFA” to me had previously meant “Special Forces Association” (or perhaps “Scottish Football Association”!).

But service leavers soon adapt and find the welcoming camaraderie and team spirit of their new college departments resonant with their old service life. 

‘DfE and MoD must work together’

The Education and Training Foundation, in conjunction with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, launched the Further Forces Programme in 2017 and, although the recruitment phase has now ended, there are still service leavers on programme who will be available for employment. Future service leavers may be interested in other ETF technical teacher recruitment programmes, such as Taking Teaching Further.   

So, I sincerely hope the national recruitment campaign will encompass Armed Forces service leavers.

Close liaison between the Department for Education and the MoD, and also between the agency appointed to deliver the national recruitment campaign and the Career Transition Partnership (who help to deliver resettlement on behalf of the MoD) would seem to be a sensible first step towards this.

Equally, principals may choose to liaise directly with the CTP to advertise their vacancies (at no cost) and might consider offering “taster days” for service leavers.

The idea of a national recruitment campaign is to be applauded. We now need to pull together to help it become a reality.

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